Friday, March 09, 2007

The City Church, a guest post by Paul Grabill

About a week and a half ago, I posted an entry entitled The Universal Church, Landmarkism, and John Dagg. One of the people who commented was Paul Grabill. I was so interested in what he had to share regarding the concept of the "City Church," which I believe relates in some very practical ways to the general theme of this blog, unity in the Body of Christ, that I invited Paul to write a guest post elaborating a bit more on this very important concept. What follows is Paul's post, which I have just received. I invite you to consider carefully what Paul is saying here, and to leave whatever comments you see fit...


Dear David:

I'm sorry that I have not gotten back to you sooner. I wanted to share something that was both well thought through and succinct. I'm not sure that I achieved that.:)

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share with you more about what is dear to my heart--and I believe the heart of the Lord--visible unity (not uniformity) among born-again believers.

As I briefly shared before, I believe the optimal and most biblical manifestation of that unity is what I will call the "City Church."

Let me lay out why:

First, here are my theological assumptions:

1. Our ultimate authority is Scripture--adding nothing and taking nothing away. Therefore, we must draw our ecclesiology from the New Testament, taking relevant passages at face value (as literal as possible). One cannot exegete from tradition or experience. Tradition (no matter how long the span of time) and experience (no matter how broadly shared) must submit to the clear meaning of the Word of God.

2. The Lordship of Jesus Christ as Head of His Church. What He wants is what we should want; nothing more, nothing less.

3. A commitment to the fundamentals of the faith, but latitude in interpretation on non-essentials.

4. One biblical truth cannot be sacrificed for another. For instance, we don't believe in the resurrection of our Lord less because we believe in the virgin birth. Some have established unity vs. truth as a false dichotomy. Both must be embraced. In fact, a commitment to biblical unity actually forces us to decide what are the core essentials of the faith. However, if seemingly everything is an essential/fundamental, then nothing is. When the list of fundamentals gets longer and longer, at some point the meaning of the word 'fundamental' is logically obliterated.

5. The Church Universal is called by Christ to be missional by definitiion. We should all think like missionaries. (I am a missionary to Central Pennsylvania. The fact that I was physically born in this area is irrelevant. Since I've been born-again, I've become a citizen of Heaven, and am therefore an "Ambassador of Christ.")

I think these are assumptions broadly shared in the evangelical community. However, our practice often does not match up with our declared assumptions.

To illustrate, let me address two key passages.

It seems transparently clear to me that John 17:23 speaks (1) of visible unity, i.e., "...that the world may know..." and (2) clearly expresses the heartfelt prayer and desire of the one we call Lord. I don't see any way that we can call Jesus "Lord" and ignore what is in his only extended canonical prayer. What do I mean by that? Well, Jesus must have prayed thousands of prayers, and a few of His brief ones are recorded, but this is the *only* extended prayer in our canon. Why? Because we are supposed to read what He wants. If this is not a priority for us, how can we call ourselves followers of Christ, let alone Biblical Christians?

It also seems transparently clear to me that 1 Corinthians 1 and 3 speak precisely against the denominational paradigm in which we presently minister. Of course, we have expanded the categories far beyond "Paul, Cephas, Apollos, and Christ." We have Luther, Wesley, all manner of Calvinists, et. al. And it's not just in one city that we have such divisions--it's in virtually every city. In fact, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of denominational (literally, using a name) networks that form part of the Body of Christ, but often believe themselves to have all or most of the Truth. Well, there are only two mathematical possibilities of how many denominations "have it all together." It's either one or none. And, I believe I know the answer: it's none. We all have part, but not the whole.

Now, it probably should be said that denominations (a phenomenon largely created by church/state separation in America and then exported to the world) are better than the religious wars of old Europe. But I think we must also admit that they aren't biblical. I don't know how anyone could argue that they are.

Some get around this by arguing that they are *the one* that has it all together. Landmark Baptists aren't the only ones that make that claim, as sincere a claim as it may be. Roman Catholics and others do the same.

So, how we move off of dead center and establish some semblance of visible unity as our Lord desires?

Here are some proposed pathways to Christian unity:

1. Institutional mergers.

2. Councils of Churches/denominations on national or international scales.

3. Local unity guided by the Holy Spirit.

As you have guessed, I believe the third is the only workable and biblical solution.

Remember that one of my assumptions is that the Church should always be missional. I believe common mission unites. We see that in the military, don't we? Paul and his ministry partners may have had disagreements and each may have had more in common with someone in Jerusalem who was not part of their missionary enterprise, but their common goal united them (I won't take the space to elaborate on Paul/Barnabas, hoping the point is accepted).

Therefore, it seems to me, that I have more in common with born-again pastors who wish to see State College, PA reached for Jesus than I do with, say, a pastor of my own denomination in Southern California. That perspective has led me and others to commit considerable time to not only praying, working and worshipping together, but to begin to knit hearts and to hold each other accountable in deeper ways than denominations are able (because of geographical distance). At the same time, we don't believe in uniformity, so we believe each congregation should have freedom to express their own way of worship and teaching on secondary and tertiary matters.

So, why am I still part of a denomination if I think that they aren't biblical? Because I don't believe in non-accountability. So, until a new wineskin (such as the "City Church") emerges, I remain connected with my ecclesiastical family of origin.

One other matter of note: I have mentioned in an earlier comment that, Biblically, the preeminent use of the word "Church" implied only one "Church" in each city--the Church of Ephesus, Philippi, Rome, et. al. The word 'Church' is used 3 ways in the NT--The Universal Church, the City Church and the House Church. The single mention of the House Church (I'd say all congregations today are just overgrown house churches) has been conflated by many with the preeminent use of the City Church. Hence the confusion. Each local congregation acts like they are the "Church of the City," when in reality, they are only a part of the whole.

So, as you can see, I have no interest in national/international ecumenical organizations, in sacrificing biblical essentials for false unity or in denominational mergers. What I am interested in is simply this: Pleasing the Lord. I am committed to an incremental, Spirit-led approach that does not seek to deconstruct what we already have until something better emerges (no, this is not part of the Emergent movement:)).

If you have any questions, David, I'll be happy to take my best shot at them.

Blessings on you and yours!

Paul Grabill

State College, PA

85 comments:

GuyMuse said...

David/Paul,

I read with great interest "The City Church". There is much in this post that fascinates me and could be commented on (hopefully others will.)

One question I have never been able to come to grips with in the "city church" dialogue is whether the Eph.4 designation of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are meant to function city-wide, or does each local house church expected to have their own five-fold ministries? It would seem that most churches today have opted for the latter, but it would seem a much stronger case could be made for the five-fold ministries operating on a city-wide basis relating to all the local churches on a more city-wide basis.

In other words, each local "house church" (or overgrown hc as Paul refers to them!) is shepherded by elders, with the APEPT leaders functioning more on a city-wide/regional level.

In miniature we see this in our own local house church network where APEPT leaders relate more on a city-wide basis and less on a local basis. Of course making this happen in the "real world" of the cities where we live would seem to be next to impossible. Who determines who the city-wide APEPT are, and even if they are there, how many churches would respect this?

Part of the problem is that we don't really recognize or have a clear understanding of who and what APE are actually supposed to do. We seem to have a clearer understanding of pastor/teacher types. What we seem to have done is turn the five-fold ministries and combined them all into one super function, typically known as the modern day pastor.

Anyway, I would be interested in either/both of you commenting on this from your understanding of Scripture as it relates to the idea of there being "city churches" made up of numerous local congregations and the implications of APEPT to all this.

Alan Knox said...

David,

Thank you for sharing this email with us. I've just finished reading Watchman Nee's Assembling Together, as you requested. He also suggests that the church should recognize itself as a "city church". These are definitely things that we should think seriously about - especially those of us who take Scripture seriously.

Guys asks an interesting question. I don't have an exact answer. I believe that Scripture teaches that God will provide what gifts and gifted people are necessary for the church to function as he wants it to function. I think this is true for the "house church", for the "city church", and for the "universal church". I'm not sure that we need to assign certain gifted people to certain churches. If we need it, God will provide it - assuming of course that we are not excluding those gifted people because they are not part of "our church".

-Alan

Jonathan K. said...

David,

Thanks for posting Paul's comments. They are good and helpful, and I agree much with what he said.

I'd like to take a few moments and respond to Guymuse's comment above. I am a member of a non-Baptist church that believes in "five-fold ministry." I do not believe that the Eph. 4 designation of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are meant to function city-wide, but rather, to the congregation specifically receives them as the office gifts that they are. I do not believe each church (congregation) should have their own five-fold ministry. Rather, each church has apostles who it receives as such, and the same can be said for prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. This is why I believe in what is called, "translocal ministry." Paul was an apostle to the church at Ephesus (pastored by Timothy), and also to the church that Titus pastored --- but Paul was based in neither Ephesus, nor Titus' church, but somewhere else. Likewise, my church in Edmond, OK, receives an apostle from Illinois. It is translocal ministry, and that's the biblical model that I see in the Scriptures.

Further, I think that when we consolidate the five office gifts into the one "modern-day pastor," we really do a disservice to the local church, and the body of Christ. The purpose of each of the office gifts is to "perfect the saints for the work of the ministry." Every local church needs all five office gifts to be made more mature and more complete in Christ, so that the saints can do the work of the ministry they've been called to do. Its part of growing up and maturing in Christ, so we can be equipped for the work of the ministry.

So those are my thoughts, for now.

Blessings,
Jonathan

Strider said...

We have been working on the city-church concept here in Minas Tirith for about five years now. There are 23 local groups ranging from house church to Baptist to Pentacostal. We have struggled with this much but it is bearing fruit. Baptist and Pentacostals have been able to meet in the same room and pray and strategize ministry efforts together without compromising on doctinal issues. This has been encouraging but we still have a long way to go.
The big hurdle for us- and any, I would think- is the five fold ministry. The only way for the different groups to get along is the recognition that there is no authority structure over us (save Christ). But this precludes the 'assigning' of any of the five-fold gifts mentioned by Guy et al. Our big challenge is to let Jesus be Lord and recognize the giftedness of those whom He is sending to us. We are slowly responding to this. Ego, pride, and personalities are constant diversions from what Jesus prayed for.

David Rogers said...

Guy,

Although I am sure other people take the same view, or at least one quite similar to it, what you are referencing here is the view espoused by Wolfgang Simson in Houses that Change the World, right?

If I remember correctly, Simson says that the APEPT leaders in Eph. 4 are not offices in the church, but rather primary types of roles or functions that various church leaders fulfill. I agree with Simson here that it is unlikely you will have all the necessary leadership roles present in one house church group. But, the leadership gifts are not meant to function only on a strictly local house church level. Thus, different churches share resources, including human leadership resources.

In traditional denominational life, this happens as well (though we don't usually use the APEPT terminology), at the associational, state and national convention levels. Teachers function through seminaries, which are the result of joint efforts of various congregations. Itinerant evangelists share their gifts among various congregations, etc., etc.

The difference in the City Church, as I understand it, is human resources are shared on a more local level, across denominational lines, not just with those who agree with you doctrinally on seconday and tertiary issues, and who sign on to the same organization and hierarchical leadership structure as you.

Regarding who determines who the APEPT leaders are in a given city, I don't see any hard and fast rules. I see recognition as more informal. I see elders on a local church level as having a bit more formal recognition, though.

Also, I am concerned that City Church models birthed out of the house church movement not be exclusive of non-house-church congregations. Otherwise, the danger exists of the City Church becoming just one more denomination.

David Rogers said...

Alan,

I think I agree with you that God apportions the gifts and gifted individuals as He sees fit. Our responsibility is to recognize the gifts God has placed in our midst, and help them to function to their full potential.

David Rogers said...

Jonathan,

I agree on the disadvantages of consolidating all of the 5-fold ministry into one pastor-teacher role and office in the local church. God gifts different leaders in different ways, and there should be liberty to function the area of gifting in which God has gifted you.

I am not sure, though, if I completely go along with the idea of an "apostle" exercising supervisory authority over various congregations, if that is what you are inferring. I see apostles more as church planters and visionaries at large. But I am not anywhere close to dogmatic on this. I need to study this out a lot more.

David Rogers said...

Strider,

I like the example you give of how things are working in "Minas Tirith."

On a pragmatic basis, I think what you say--"The only way for the different groups to get along is the recognition that there is no authority structure over us (save Christ)"--seems very wise. However, I am still open to being shown a different point of view on this question from Scripture.

David Rogers said...

Paul,

Any additional comments? I'd love to hear what you have to say on these questions.

Paul said...

Sorry, David. I don't know what I did wrong. I wrote a comment early this morning (Eastern Time) and I suppose it got lost in cyberspace. I'll copy this one so I don't start from scratch.

I replied primarily to Guy. To the degree that APEPT are relevant today, I think one needs to think in terms of the Church of the City, not house churches (even overgrown ones).

I purposefully have begged the question on this, because there is not wide agreement at this point on the precise role of the APEs (to use your term:)). I believe this is something where we all need to ask the Holy Spirit to illumine God's Word to us in this area.

Probably my best pastor friend here in State College is Dan Nold, pastor of Calvary Baptist (BGC). He is very highly regarded in town and serves as a BGC national executive as well. He read my post and said it was great except that it didn't mention his name. Well, I won't compromise on essentials, but I will bend over backwards for the sake of unity.:) Actually, I mention Dan because the BGC has formally decided to use the 'a' (apostle) word.

That's so interesting to me, because some pentecostal denominations are still leery of the word because of the confusion and even devastation of the "Latter Rain" movement of 1948-49 when it was claimed that the apostolic 'office' was being revived.

Much of the talk about contemporary apostles has been fostered by my former prof, C. Peter Wagner and has been picked up by other leading influencers. I have written a paper for our denomination on the subject that takes a cautious stance, but I think it might be helpful for those who want to push hard on this that Wagner's archetypical contemporary apostle was Ted Haggard.

I hope this gets through and I'd be happy to try to respond to more thoughts from anyone.

Ken Sorrell said...

David and Paul,

This is, as others have already stated a fascinating post and gives the reader much to ponder. I believe Paul presents a strong case for his position and even though many of his points I would find agreement with, some of his positions and statements leave me asking questions his post did not appear to address. I will resist from responding to his comment on every Christian is a missionary since I address that on a regular basis on my own blog.

My question is that I still do not have a good handle on what is desire when we speak of unity. Paul mentions that a common mission will unite but will not require uniformity. Although I do like this image, it is at the point of practice and expression of our theological beliefs that leads to a lack of unity. If we did not have denominational labels we would eventually develop other descriptors of our differences. Once this began, we would again slip and slide down that slope toward institutionalism. Then we are back having the same discussion using different names.

So is unity defined as the message we preached or is it found in the way we preach it? If I understand what you are saying, I fear that all we will see is a change of wineskins when it is a new wine that is also needed.

On the APEPT discussion I would agree with David that I am not ready to for the sake of simplicity relegate all of these to one person, the pastor or overseer of a local congregation. At the same time, I do not see clear evidence of these gifts being exercised, over several congregations, as Paul seems to indicate, if I understand him correction. 1 Corinthians 13 discusses prophesy more in terms of a gift than as an office that many today are proposing. In one sense, every Christian should exhibit all of these characteristics to some extent.

Where I am closer to the dogmatic line than David is that I do believe that the apostle role today is a NT description of those who are called, set apart, and sent out, focused upon what we call today the missionary task.

David, would you consider the decision reached in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 to be an example of the Gentile churches submitting to the authority of the Jerusalem church or simply a picture of mutual accountability concerning doctrine and duty?

Strider said...

Ken, I think that the key in understanding the city church- or area church- is the attitude that the brethren have for one another. What we have experienced for most of the Church age is men battling for control out of both good and bad motives. Paul ask us, 'Who are you to judge another man's servant?' We seem to ignore this too often. If we respect each other, love one another, and pray for one another then we can bloom in the areas of ministry that the Lord has placed us without the constant fear of some slippery slope that will doom all christendom.
With the exception of the few who advocate some sort of authoritarian
'City Apostle' no one is trying to form a new denomination. The key is to let God be God- even of those who disagree with us. We should be lifting each other up and caring for one another as the Word clearly teaches. Then short term and long term partnerships can form and ministry can become more effective. Most importantly, when the lost world around us sees us praying for each other instead of preying upon one another this will bring much glory to God.
As long as this comment is already too long let me add that I have already posted on the nature of the Apostle and I should probably do the same with the role of Prophet as well. We need all of the ministries that God has given to fight the battle before us.

Ken Sorrell said...

Strider,

Thanks for the response. It is too my heart's desire that we would see a church world as you have described. Even though I agree some would put aside differences for the benefit of a common mission either short-term or long-term, I'm not yet convinced that most would default to a "bird's of a feather" philosophy for cooperation. At the same time, we can pray and work for a better situation than we see now. Thanks!

pecheur said...

I really would like to soak this in. I am not familiar with this but I need to look for some time to look at it. it looks like food for thought.

David Rogers said...

Ken,

In my understanding, the Gentile believers in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem of their own accord, not because anyone required them to do this. This would seem to favor the "mutual accountability" option. However, I believe the particular authority of the apostles in Jerusalem called for a response of submission, just as the Holy Spirit-inspired writings of the original apostles call for a response of submission on our part today. This type of apostle, and apostolic authority, passed on with the passing of the original twelve, in my opinion.

However, there are others beyond the twelve that the NT also calls apostles, or "sent ones." There is a difference, as well, I believe, between the "apostles of Jesus" and "apostles of the churches." The original 12 were sent out directly by Jesus, with the corresponding authority.

It seems to me that the other apostles are gifted individuals commended to missionary ministry by the Church (or a church, if you will). I like Strider's description in the post he references, but, then again, I don't find enough biblical evidence to be dogmatic about such a description (not meaning to imply that Strider is being dogmatic).

Does that help to answer your question, or are there other specific points not covered here?

Kevin Peacock said...

David, I am a frequent observer but a first-time participant on your blog. This is a fascinating discussion, and I am always excited to find people with a great desire to understand the NT teaching of ecclesiology in its original context.

I find much in agreement with what Paul has said, especially in his distinction of the NT church being expressed in terms of universal church, city/regional (e.g. "local") church, and house church. I believe our tradition of church buildings has blinded many Christians to the fact that dedicated church buildings did not exist in church history until the 4th century AD. So what did "the Ephesian church" look like when it outgrew one home?

I personally am not as negative on denominations in terms of causing division in the Body of Christ. From Paul Grabill's perspective this may be the case, but this by no means is determinative. In the contexts where I have served where evangelical Christians were in the vast minority, we have found a tremendous comraderie and have even been able to combine our efforts on many endeavors. What I do find among the denominational distinctives, however, are different emphases on where a local church's efforts and ministries should lie. Some excel on social ministry, some in missions and evangelism, some in student ministry, etc. I find no conflict in these, instead the tremendous possibility for harmony. Even if some churches are doing the same types of ministry, there is plenty of room in God's kingdom for that. In other words, different expressions of NT church, different denominations, and different ministries does not mean that the Body is divided. Neither does it mean that they are automatically unified either!

The fact that they are not "biblical" does not stress me either -- after all, neither are church buildings, Sunday School, guitars, soup kitchens, and clothes closets.

The modern day "apostle" should not be equated with the apostles that Christ chose to be with Him (there are none of those left). Christ's apostles' authority was in what the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance of what Jesus had taught them (John 14:25-26). That sort of "apostolic authority" is recorded for us in the pages of the NT. Any "authority" a servant today may hold comes from this source, not from any "office" they may hold. (Personally, I believe that the concept of "office" is an extra-biblical concept.)

Ken, the church in Jerusalem in Acts 15 seems to have held some sense of "authority" to speak to the issue of the Gentile churches, not because they were the original church in Jerusalem, but because that was the location of Christ's apostles. Notice that their decision both held to God's missionary purpose for the inclusion of the Gentiles as equal brethren but also to Christ's desire for unity among the brethren. The Antioch believers saw the tenor of the letter as an "encouragement" (15:31) to them, and the few concessions asked of them were gladly received for the sake of unity. (Interestingly, these concessions do not seem to have been perpetuated beyond this one instance.)

Kevin Peacock

Jonathan K. said...

David,

I'm going to respond to several of the more recent comments, beginning with yours.

Let me begin by clarifying what I believe to be the role of "apostles" in the church today. I agree with you that church-planting is a large part of what apostles do, functionally, in the Body of Christ. However, I do not believe apostles exercise "supervisory authority" over various congregations. Rather, I would say they exercise "relational authority" over the congregations. I basically define "relational authority" as primarily (1) shepherding and pastoring the local church pastors of the various congregations that the apostles oversee, (2) providing outside accountability and oversight to those pastors, and (3) occasionally ministering to the leadership and saints on the local level in these various congregations. That's what our apostle from Illinois does. He is my pastor's pastor, he provides accountability to my pastor, and comes in to our local church about 2-3 times a year, during which time he spends intensive sessions with both the leadership of the church and my pastor and his wife. He also preaches usually a series of meetings for the church as a whole. This is usually done over a period of 3-4 days, and again, 2-3 times a year. He also has semi-regular phone contact with my pastor, etc. It is NOT supervisory authority, as you see in a hiearchial denomination (e.g. the Catholic Church), but rather is based on relationship, mentoring, accountability, and the like. Plus, he oversees other churches and church plants that his apostolic organization has started. I hope this provides a better functional definition of "apostle," David, and answers your concerns there.

As a further example, Paul mentioned that Ted Haggard was Wagner's apostle. Well, Ted Haggard also has his own "apostles," but New Life Church in Colorado Springs uses the term "overseers" instead to mean basically the same thing. And in case any of you are wondering, Larry Stockstill, who founded the G-12 cell model (VERY similar to house churches), was Ted Haggard's "apostle" (and still is for New Life Church minus Ted).

Alright, that's enough for now. If people have other questions they'd like me to answer, or to clarify, please let me know.

God's blessings,
Jonathan

David Rogers said...

Pecheur,

Welcome to Love Each Stone. Look forward to any other thoughts you may have. You wouldn't happen to be with the IMB, would you?

David Rogers said...

Kevin,

Glad to have you on board as well.

If I understand you correctly, I think I agree with you about the place of denominations. About a year ago, on this post, I referenced the following quote from Douglas Blount, which makes a lot of sense to me:

"After all, in the preface to Mere Christianity, [C. S.] Lewis himself writes: "I hope no reader will suppose that 'mere' Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions - as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable."

Of course, it seems obviously important that one not confuse one's own denominational context with the church, as if no one outside it belongs to Christ. But it also seems important - though perhaps less obviously so - that those who remain in the merely Christian hall cut themselves off from the very fellowship which my friend desired to promote. For fellowship comes within community, and Christian communities are located within Lewis's rooms, not his hall. Nowhere else can one find the warmth, rest, and nourishment which come within those rooms, within those "existing communions.""

David Rogers said...

Jonathan,

I can see some practical value in the type of "apostolic" ministry you are describing here. But I am not sure you can find a biblical justification for this definition of "apostle."

Also, as I understand it, the G-12 model is quite "hierarchical." Larry Stockstill is one of Cesar Castellanos's international 12, isn't he? Sounds to me a bit like "spiritual Amway."

Paul said...

Ken said:

>>My question is that I still do not have a good handle on what is desire when we speak of unity.

I agree, Ken. I think we are so far away from NT City unity that we all, in our own locations, need to just move in the same general direction and do course corrections as we go. It's hard to visualize an end model (I think I created problems here in State College by attempting to do so). We know what direction is biblical and NT, so let's all do that where we are and learn from each other as we go. Obviously, if God is blessing one particular place (as has been claimed in the past), everyone else becomes all ears.

Kevin said,

>>The fact that they [denominations] are not "biblical" does not stress me either -- after all, neither are church buildings, Sunday School, guitars, soup kitchens, and clothes closets.

Well, I would agree with your analogies, Ken, if there were no scripture against the kind of Apollos, Cephas, et. al. networks that we presently have. I think 1 Cor 1 and 3 are pretty clear on this. Let me use an extreme example. I hope you wouldn't say that same sex marriages don't bother you because they are not "biblical" like guitars, church buildings, etc. Let me presume, if I may, for a second that you would say, absolutely not--that scripture is clear on such. If you were to take that position, I would agree, but I think the biblical prohibition of denominationalism is less clear than same sex marriage, but still pretty clear. Because of the "less clear" state, I'm willing to be an incrementalist on it vs. the more dogmatic approach I would take on same sex marriage. Sorry for the extreme hot-button example, but sometimes it helps in making a point.

Like children born out of wedlock, the denominational tradition that we have had for 500 years causes wonderful diversity in nearly every city. My metaphor (vs. Pete Wagner's 'tribal' metaphor--which has geographical implications) is a marital metaphor. Even though I have more DNA in common with my parents, yet my relationship with my wife (with little DNA in common) is closer. We each respect our inlaws (respect for denominational DNA), yet our commitment is primarily to one another. That's the way I feel toward the rest of the Body of Christ in State College.

I know this is getting long, but I continue to be concerned that the term City Church continues to raise the APEPS issue, which I believe to be important, but not related. Pete Wagner is the one that has tied the two together, and I believe them to be separate issues. Here's why:

1. I don't believe 'apostolic' gifting to be an office, nor governmental (except for the 12 in Jerusalem--but this is *never* replicated anywhere else, except in Mormonism:)). Paul appointed elders in each city, not junior apostles.
2. As we work through the APEPT issue, I think we need to study the Church of the Second Century. The term 'apostle' (in the sense of contemporary apostles) is almost totally absent.
3. There is absolutely no sense of the "apostle of/in the city" in the NT at all, unless one stretches the word "angel/messenger" in Revelation to make the case.
4. There is no need for an apostle for there to be City Church unity. A plurality of elders ('Elders of the City') would suffice. If a city decides to have a bishop, so be it, but that will scare away most of us congregationalist types. So, I hope no one does that anytime soon.
5. I'd rather be talking about what the 'autonomy of the local church' might look like from a City Church perspective. I'd love to live to see the day that the Church of State College is operating like the Church of Ephesus, learning from and blessing other city churches, yet not governing anyone else or being governed by anyone else. That way we can get away from the self-sufficient overgrown house church dysfunction of "I have no need of thee" that we presently have.

So, I'd really rather see APEPT discussed in a totally different format, because I'm afraid our lack of clarity on APEPT is scaring people away from the clear biblical mandate to move toward city unity. Maybe we're trying to get the cart before the horse.

Sorry for the length, David.

Paul said...

David, I love your citation of Lewis.

I don't want to live in the hallway, either, but I've love to see the walls at least cut in half, so we can't pretend the rest of us don't exist.

Paul said...

"I'd" (as in March) not "I've":)

Ken Sorrell said...

David, et.al,

Are we having fun yet? I know that I am. In terms of the "office of apostle" you and I are definitely on the same page here. Neither do I see any biblcial evidence for an oversight or accountability role with the title apostle. I have yet to hear any strong biblical evidence that after the 12 big A Apostles, little A apostles are those gifted and called to the missionary task. Outside of the references to the 12 Apostles, the Apostle Paul is referred to as an apostle more than any one else, 15 times. It is my view that God was trying to tell us something about the missionary role and task.

Being that C.S. Lewis is a personal hero of mine and that I have a map of Narnia hanging in my office, I really like the hallway analogy. If I understand the City-church concept as Paul describes it, I would say that how high the walls of hallway are built from the inside. That we determine how much people see in and how much we want to see out.

I would be interested in hearing how much you guys believe that culture impacts the structures that we setup. In our K'ekchi' work in Guatemala, the K'ekchi'Baptist Association looked and felt a lot like our view of convention. However, the leve of accountability was definitely higher and was drawn from cultural mores. For example, if I am a pastor of a church I cannot leave the church I am pastoring unless I have an invitation of another church and permission to leave from my church. I know this is not what Paul is describing in his post, but it points out to me anyway, that culture is going to be a driving force in this discussion.

Lastly, how do we deal with issues and ideas not directly addressed in Scripture. For example, when training volunteer teams we point out that nowhere in the NT do we see an example of a larger, wealthier congregation financially supporting a smaller, poorer congregation. Does this mean that larger churches cannot give to smaller churches. No, but it does reveal a gapping biblical hole in the practice of outsiders paying natiional pastor's salaries.

I would like to think that Paul, by the way remembering which Paul we are referring to sometimes is challenging, would agree with me that when Scripture is silent on an issue, whatever our solution turns out to be cannot contradict Scripture either. We definitely are living in an interesting time in church history. Thanks to all for the interchange.

Jonathan K. said...

David,

Well, for a biblical justification for the model of apostolic ministry that I suggested, I look to the relationship between Paul and Timothy, and likewise, Paul and Titus. Do you see that as anything different from what I suggested???

As for Stockstill, G-12, and Ted Haggard, I was using that as an example to explain the concept of "outside overseers." I was NOT endorsing G-12, which DOES create a "spiritual Amway" of sorts by its "hiearchy." The only point I was making was that Stockstill is an apostolic overseer for New Life in Colorado Springs --- that's all. I was only highlighting G-12 so that everyone here would know who I was talking about. And you're right, Stockstill is one of the international 12, although that was also besides the point.

Blessings,
Jonathan

David Rogers said...

Paul,

I really resonate with your comments to Ken and Kevin. I think we are thinking very much along similar lines here. Please do not feel shy to comment as often and as long as you like here. I think this conversation is both very interesting and very important, and your contribution is very appreciated.

David Rogers said...

Ken,

From a missionary point of view, I would almost always tend to think culture plays a significant role in almost everything we do.

However, I have seen how Baptist (or other) denominational "culture" can sometimes be superimposed over the culture of the people in general among whom we are ministering. Thus, when considering culture, I think we must be careful to look into how other believers, churches, and denominational groups working within the same people group, interpret and apply the same issues.

The whole question of culture also plays into your last point of issues not directly addressed in Scripture. At times, we have descriptions of how the early church did things that are more cultural adaptations of eternal principles. As biblical scholars, we must use hermeneutics to separate the eternal principles from the culturally-bound application of those principles. As cross-cultural missionaries, we must take these same principles and look for culturally appropriate applications in each different culture. Challenging, yes, but fun, also.

David Rogers said...

Jonathan,

As I understand it, neither Timothy nor Titus were pastors or elders in the technical sense. They were members of Paul's apostolic team, and were basically apostolic workers themselves. Paul, as team leader, thus, exercised "relational authority" over his team members.

There is also a special relationship between a church planter, and the pastor/elders of the churches he plants. The church planter functions somewhat as a father figure, seeking to bring the emerging leaders, in the appropriate timing, to a place of spiritual maturity in which he can completely turn over responsibility for the shepherding of the flock to them.

In the IMB, we call this the MAWL process: "Model, Assist, Watch, and Leave."

Regarding G-12, there are some specific points I would not endorse either. For instance, it seems like they tend to get stuck into certain cultural molds, and sometimes haven't learned how to successfully adapt in other cultural contexts.

However, there are many aspects of the G-12 model I find very interesting and worthwhile studying from a missionary point of view. That might be a whole other topic worth exploring here sometime.

David Rogers said...

Paul,

Also, I thought it might be worthwhile to point out (as I alluded to in a previous comment to Guy) that, not only Wagner, but also Wolfgang Simson has closely linked the concepts of City Church and "APEPT" leadership in his writing and teaching on house churches. Among certain sectors of the SBC IMB, Simson has had a fairly significant influence.

Alan Knox said...

David,

I am really enjoying this discussion. I have a couple of questions that I was wondering if some could address.

Several have mentioned APEPT. I'm not sure that Eph 4:11 can be separated into five distinct "ministries". If any thing, the last two seem to be combined, i.e. shepherd/teacher. Does this matter? If so, how would it affect APEPT?

Similarly, what if in Eph 4:11 Paul was not listing all of the gifted people necessary to equip the church? It seems there is a different list of gifted people in 1 Cor 12:29-30. Adding to that Paul's insistence in 1 Cor 12:22 and following that those who seem "weaker are indispensable", it would seem that all gifted people within the body (that is, all believers) are necessary for equipping.

Please, don't misunderstand what I am asking. I do not disagree with the conclusions that many are drawing here. However, I'm wondering if it is wise to hang everything on APEPT as biblically described leadership in five parts.

-Alan

David Rogers said...

Alan,

For what it's worth, here is my read on the questions you ask.

As I understand it, there are two possible translations of Eph. 4.11, either pastors and teachers, or pastors/teachers. I'm not sure it makes that big of a difference for the questions at hand. I think there are almost certainly some that are more gifted as pastors or shepherds, others that are more gifted just as teachers, and others that are gifted as pastor/teachers.

I see the list in 1 Cor. 12.28-30 to refer to spiritual gifts in general, and the list in Eph. 4.11 more specifically to equippers. Although I would agree that each member of the Body is extremely important, and that the "weaker are indispensable," I see the specific role of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers as being that of "preparing God's people for works of service." Each member of the Body, though, has an important role, though perhaps a bit different, in the "building up of the Body."

In any case, I can see your point in the dangers of getting too focused on the specific roles and titles of APEPT. In real life, it is people, each with their own personality, gift-mix, and idiosyncracies, that lead out in equipping the church. However, I do think that APEPT is helpful in describing some key aspects of equipping and leadership.

Jonathan K. said...

David,

Well, in a way, we're both right. I believe that Timothy and Titus were pastors/elders of their respective local congregations AND they were members of Paul's apostolic team, as well. Yes, Paul exercised "relational authority" over them. I think we are saying the same thing, but articulating it differently.

I agree with you wholeheartedly with your second paragraph, about the relationship between church planters and the pastors/elders of the churches that they plant. Actually, my church is called to plant churches, and what you described here is EXACTLY how we intend to raise up elders in other churches that we plant. There would be an apostolic team that would ordain local pastors/elders, and then my own pastor would be an apostolic overseer of those churches.

I share your mixed views on G-12.

Alan,

I'd like to make a few comments and hopefully answer your questions.

You asked about whether APEPT can be divided into five ministries, esp. with the possibility of combining pastors and teachers into one. Well, some make the grammatical argument that there is the ministry of the pastor-teacher, but I do not see that in the text of what Paul writes in Eph. 4. Yes, all pastors should teach (that is a requirement for eldership), BUT --- being a Teacher is a different kind of gift than being a Pastor. Pastoral ministry involves shepherding a local church, managing its spiritual affairs, and providing a modicum of care for the people. Part of this is ministering the Word of God on a weekly basis by preaching sermons. However, it also includes vision-casting, and bearing the vision for the local church. To me, examples of NT pastors in the Bible are Timothy and Titus. OTOH, Teachers are a different role, they teach the Word of God. They are not responsible for bearing the vision of the local church or managing affairs of the church. There is a huge difference. Does that make sense? Does that help.

Also, Alan, you asked, "What if Paul was not listing all the gifted people people necessary to equip the church? It seems there is a different list of gifted people in 1 Cor 12:29-30." Beginning in verse 28, actually, we see Paul lists the following gifts/ministries: apostles, prophets, teachers (NOT pastors-teachers), miracles, gifts of healings, helps, administrations (in some translations, governments), various kinds of tongues. Then Paul goes back in verse 29, and rhetorically asks that not all are apostles, etc. But here is an important distinction. The way the Bible defines the gifts of APEPT individuals is that the person themselves is the gift to the Body of Christ. OTOH, working of a miracles IS a gift, but it is NOT the person WITH the gift that IS the gift. If you go to my blog, "World of Faith," at http://www.worldoffaith.wordpress.com/, Alan, I have a whole series that explained this in much further detail.

Another key difference is the purpose of the gifts. Not everything listed in 1 Cor. 12 is meant to equip the body. Everything here is meant to EDIFY the body. But equipping means to mature, perfect, and complete, which is expressly reserved in Eph. 4 to APEPT ministry.

Lastly, Alan, a special note on helps and administrations (or governments). Helps is more of a ministry than really an area of gifting. Helps includes a lot of different ministries in the church, e.g. ushers, greeters, nursery workers, choir members, etc. It actually includes anyone serving in any capacity that is not APEPT. Administrations, OTOH, is really a function of pastoral ministry, and that is the gift to place members of a local church in the appropriate ministries they should be involved in, given the different gifts, talents, and abilities of each member. Does that all make sense? Does that answer your questions, Alan??? I really encourage you to go look at the "What is Charismatic?" series on my blog, esp. the latter half of it where I discuss spiritual gifts in greater detail than this post.

Sorry for the length, David.

Blessings,
Jonathan

Alan Knox said...

David and Jonathan,

Thank you for your replies to my questions. They were well-thought and explained.

Concerning Ephesians 4:11 - If I were to translate this literally, I would translate it as follows: "And he himself gave on the one hand apostles, on the other hand prophets, on the other hand evangelists, on the other hand pastors and teachers..." Now, the "on the one hand"/"on the other hand" conjuctions are perfectly valid in Greek, but in English we only use this type of conjunction for two items. For Greek, this conjuction (μεν/δε) can be used for any number of items. This is why most English translations use the word "some" instead of "on the one hand"/"on the other hand". However, the number of itesm are still specified by the μεν/δε conjuntions. In this case, there are only four items listed, not five. Grammatically, as Jonathan mentioned, "pastors" and "teachers" are combined in this list as one item.

I do not think that the gift of pastoring is the same as the gift of teaching. However, in the list in Eph 4:11, they are combined.

I also recognize that Eph 4:11 is talking about gifted individuals, but notice that Eph 4:7 mentions the gifts themselves. Who are the gifted individuals but those through whom the Spirit ministers His gifts? In the same way, Paul lists gifted individuals along with gifts in 1 Cor 12:28 and following (thank you for correcting the reference).

One more thing... Eph 4:11 lists a group of gifted individuals. We would probably all agree with that. However, Paul does not indicate that this is a complete or exhaustive list of those who God uses to equip the body. In fact, there is not a complete list of gifts/gifted individuals in Scripture. The list seems to be given as an example of some gifted individuals who equip the church.

Again, please understand, I am not arguing about whether or not God uses some as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teaches. I believe that he does. However, I'm concerned that we may be reading more into the text that is actually there. We may be putting more emphasis on a five-fold leadership group than Paul intended in his letter.

I am, however, open to hearing different views on this. And I will read Jonathan's articles.

-Alan

Alan Knox said...

Jonathan,

I should have checked your blog before I promised to read it. I have already read your blog... I think I even commented a few times. I've added you to my blogroll now.

-Alan

Paul said...

David said,

>>I thought it might be worthwhile to point out (as I alluded to in a previous comment to Guy) that, not only Wagner, but also Wolfgang Simson has closely linked the concepts of City Church and "APEPT" leadership in his writing and teaching on house churches. Among certain sectors of the SBC IMB, Simson has had a fairly significant influence.

Ah, thanks, David. I did not recognize the name (I'm not that SBC savvy--I'm still working on the BGC Piper vs. Boyd stuff:)), but I have to wonder if he didn't get it from Wagner, the church growth guru of the last 2.5 decades.

You may find it quite interesting that Reggie McNeal (SBC, South Carolina Convention) was with us in State College just two weeks ago
and did his "Present Future" presentation (a book I think every pastor in America should read).

Anyhow, in the book, he talks of moving toward "Apostolic Leadership." When he was with us, the PP slide said, "Apostolic Era Leadership." I forgot to ask him if the Ted Haggard scandal affected the change...

Kevin Peacock said...

Paul,

Since iron seems to be sharpening iron, I would like to disagree with your hermeneutics of 1 Corinthians 1 and 3. It seems to me to be a stretch to find "antidenominationalism" as the teaching of these passages. The "divisions" of which Paul speaks (1:10) are "schisms," not distinctions. A schism is a division based upon dissention or discord (11:18; 12:25; John 7:43; 9:16; 10:19). These schisms caused "quarrels" (1 Cor 1:11), "jealousy and strife" (3:3). This seems to be the issue here -- the attitude that fellow Christians had towards one another. Some of the Corinthian Christians which of the apostles was more important than the others -- and even some claimed to follow "Christ" (1:12) (as opposed to the the others, who weren't!). Such arrogance revealed a "fleshly" nature, people acting like "mere men" (3:3, 4).

The text seems to indicate that the divisions at Corinth weren't necessarily clearly organized parties but personal preferences ("each one of you is saying . . .") -- and quite possibly without the knowledge of the apostolic personality that some sort of "party" was following him. The issue at hand was the spirit of dissention, rivalry, disparagement, and disunity displayed, not the fact of personal preference, or even the difference in ministry style. Paul, Peter, and Apollos didn't seem to be rivals with one another, but saw their roles as fellow workers and "servants" of the same Lord. The Christians at Corinth should follow their example.

Paul said...

Kevin, thank you for the challenge.

I must say, for the life of me, I cannot see how you view the state of "The Church of Corinth" as schismatic, but present denominations as not schismatic.

I see the Corinth church in a pre-denominational state. Paul spoke strongly so that they would not end up with open factions, as we have today.

Kevin, are you saying that denominations were birthed simply by doctrinal disagreements between people who loved each other so much they would die for each other? There was no dissension, jealousy, strife, arrogance that split one group into two or more groups? You don't see any of those qualities around you? It was all just hermeneutical disagreements, not human beings struggling with their humanity?

I don't disagree with your general assessment of the situation in Corinth, but to say that their problems were more serious than we have today...I don't know how to get my head around that. I've never heard anyone argue that before.

In Corinth, they were still worshiping together (dysfunctionally), having communion somewhat together (dysfunctionally), tolerating immorality for the sake of unity, trying to outdo each other in public expressions of spiritual ecstasy, but they were still together.

It seems to me that you may be doing what the vast majority of pastors do--seeing "The Church of Corinth" as a congregation, not as the church of a city, the kind of conflation I mentioned above. When unity is preached today, it seems to me that it is almost always about a congregation (read 'house church'), not about the Body of Christ in a community. When we do that (which is true of appx. 100% of us--I love congregational unity too), is that not somewhat self-serving of us? Isn't our utter focus on ourselves and "our" flock analogous to Sunday School teachers who only care about their class and not about the whole? What pastor would tolerate that kind of attitude?

And doesn't it beg the question of John 17:23? Do you really think that Jesus, the Great Shepherd, likes it just as it is today?

I hope I'm not misinterpreting David's blog title, but I believe Jesus not only loves each stone, but wants us to show to the world that we, too, love each stone, no?

Can you help me?

Jonathan K. said...

Alan,

Thanks for adding me to your blog roll. While I am not talking about apostolic ministry right now over there, I'm sure I will come back to that topic at some point in the future. :)

If you look at the word for "gift" as it is used in Eph. 4, it is not "charisma," but "doma," which means the person itself is the gift. This is different than the person being gifted with things like "gifts of healing," although I believe that most apostles will operate in that specific gift. I believe that the gifts themselves are the men (and possibly women) whom God has chosen to fill the offices listed in verses 11, et seq. That's why some call them the "office gifts."

Blessings,
Jonathan

Kevin Peacock said...

My point is that the presence of denominations does not necessarily mean that Christ's body is divided. In my context (and for a great part of my life in many different contexts around this world), a great amount of my ministry (e.g. preaching, teaching, training leaders, helping disfunctional churches) is across denominational lines. Granted, they are all evangelical in their orientation and, for the most part, quite conservative. We may have differences in our polity or even particulars in doctrine, but these do not become tests of fellowship. In fact, I find the differences most fascinating and an enhancement to God's kingdom.

At the same time, however, I serve as a servant of a denomination and in a denominational institution (a seminary). Because of that my fellowship with fellow denominational churches spans an entire nation (Canada) and even the continent of North America (SBC). My denominational identity does not hinder my unity or fellowship with fellow evangelicals. At the same time, through cooperation, like-minded churches can accomplish an awful lot more for God's kingdom by working together than they could independently, or even the "church" in one locale. My seminary is supported by churches across an entire nation, and my missionary salary and support is provided by over 45,000 churches -- called a denomination. I view denominations like a car, you don't have to believe in them, but if you want to go somewhere, it sure helps to get in one.

The sin Paul is concerned with in 1 Corinthians 1 and 3 is "schism" that causes quarrels, jealousy, and strife. Such ungodly and divisive attitudes are certainly found even within local churches of any size or form. Such attitudes may certainly be present different denominational churches in a locale. (We find this even within my denomination!) These passages from Corinthians obviously apply here. However, it does not follow that such attitudes exist simply with the presence of different denominational churches within a community.

Alan Knox said...

Jonathan,

It is possible that δωρεά in Eph 4:7 (not δόμα, which is found in 4:8) "means the person itself is the gift". However, here are the other places in Scripture where the noun δωρεά is found: John 4:10; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:20; Acts 10:45; Acts 11:17; Romans 5:15; Romans 5:17; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 3:7; and Hebrews 6:4. In these passages, δωρεά is used to represent Christ and the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, it is never used to mean "a person", unless this is the only use.

Perhaps the best way to study how Paul uses δωρεά in Ephesians is to examine his other use of δωρεά in Ephesians:

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift (δωρεά) of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. (Eph. 3:17 ESV)

This does not seem to point to people either.

Similarly, in the near context, it does seem that Paul is using δωρεά as a synonym for δομα in 4:8 (which is a quotation of Psalm 68:19). Again, in this passage "gift" does not seem to indicate gifted people, since the gifts are given to people.

Therefore, since it seems that Paul is using both δωρεά and δόμα to indicate gifts given to people, instead of gifted people given to people, I think I'll stand by my previous point: Eph 4 and 1 Cor 12 are teaching the same thing, and Eph 4:11 is not a list of a specialized five-fold leadership.

Note, however, that I do believe that the Spirit can still gift people as apostles, prophets, etc.

-Alan

Grosey's Messages said...

Thank you Kevin for some great insights.
David I have not commented at this point to allow more seasoned thought (being a frequent commentator :).
I think the City Church model has problems that Kevin has rightly perceived.
The best example of the City Church model is one that has been at work for nearly 180 years. Are you aware of the schisms within the Exclusive Brethren in their desire to acheive this model?
The Exclusives were initally people of all denominations "gathered unto the Lord" at the Lord's table.
They rejected denominationalism to be a simple fellowship of brethren.
But, as Kevin rightly pointed out, the flesh always gets in.
Soon they became a denomination rejecting everyone who was not "in".
Then they became divided amongst themselves firstly, over, starting a new church in their city, not associated with a bickering church, then over issues of doctrine (usually only perceived differences, not actual differences).
Their apostolic overseers began excommunicating each other. They had an a responsibility to do this (they perceived).
All of this was done in order to preserve the Unity of the Brethren.
Some authority structure was needed to stop the others going astray. And as you may be aware, horrible schisms resulted.

I think the opportunity presented with other evangelicals is one of respecting other denominational (or so called "non denominational") evangelical churches, and working with those we respect while at the same time we respect ourselves enough to know what our differences are, and respect them.
Having said this, I continue to assist an evangelical anglican church in its church planting and evangelistic role as an advisor whilst pastoring our denominational Baptist church.
Hey I have invited them to use our baptistry in our church for believer's baptisms, which they are now moving towards.
We can partner around the gospel, but we recognise each other's right to independance and autonomy in ministry and the gospel.

Maybe the reality of the Universal church is only meant to be experienced in heaven.

Steve

Jonathan K. said...

Alan,

I don't know very much Greek, so I am somewhat limited in my discussion here. You're right that the word for "gift" is different in verses 7 and 8 of Eph. 4. However, I do not think Paul treats the two words as synonyms for each other. Paul writes, "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, 'When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.'" Then we see in verse 11 a description of what the "gifts to men" are. However, in verse 7, Paul writes, "grace was given acording to the measure of Christ's gift." Alan, I think you as a seminary student will agree that we always should interpret the Bible in light of the other Scriptures. I think what Paul is referring to here is basically the gift of faith, because that IS Christ's gift in salvation, i.e. faith to receive what God has given us in that. Also, Jesus talked about, "To every man, God has given a measure of faith." So, I believe that the "gift" referred to in 4:7 is really the measure of faith, and the "gifts" referred to in 4:8 are the list of the five offices, which divinely-ordained persons fill in 4:11.

Also, verses 9 and 10 are a parenthetical, so I believe verses 11, et seq. are a further explanation of verse 8. That is, verse 8 teaches Jesus gave gifts to men, and verse 11 indicates what those gifts are.

Lastly, you mentioned above that you added my blog your blogroll. I checked your blog and didn't see it. Am I mistaken here? Thanks.

God's blessings,
Jonathan

Paul said...

Kevin and Grosey,

It appears to me that we basically agree on what our attitude toward our brethren should be, but disagree on semantics. Am I right?

But no one has told me how we can work toward visible unity according to John 17:23. Any ideas?

Kevin Peacock said...

The key is remembering who the true enemy is. In some ways I am blessed to serve in a context where we evangelical Christians are in such a vast minority that the reality of the true enemy is ever before us. As one of my friends put it, "When I am in a foxhole shooting shooting at the enemy, even if my partner's aim is not quite as straight as mine, I'm still not going to turn and start shooting at him!"

Statistics show that not one county in all of the US has a majority population of churched Christians. I have a feeling this statistic may hold true around the world. In such a context, if it is indeed true that evangelical Christians are fighting with each other (which in this, Paul, I believe that you are right on target), then we have simply forgotten who the true enemy is.

Alan Knox said...

Jonathan,

Thanks for continuing this discussion. (I hope that David doesn't mind that we're discussing this on his blog.) As I mentioned on my site, when I said I added you to my blogroll, I meant that I added you to my feed reader. I read many more blogs than are listed on my site.

As a seminary student - and more importantly, as a follower of Christ - I understand that faith and grace are Christ's gifts to us in salvation. However, Christ's gifts are not limited to faith and grace. Remember that Christ said it was good for him to go away so that he could send the Spirit.

I also agree that we should interpret Scripture with Scripture. For example, compare these Scriptures:

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. (Eph 4:7 ESV)

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor. 12:7 ESV) (btw, the previous verses show that these 'manifestations' are gifts, and they are given by God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith... (Rom 12:6)

Notice the common thread: Gifts are given to each one of us by God according to His grace. In both 1 Cor. 12 and Rom. 12, these gifts are 'manifestations' of the Spirit given to people. Why is it a measure of faith in Eph. 4?

You concluded with the following statement: "So, I believe that the "gift" referred to in 4:7 is really the measure of faith, and the "gifts" referred to in 4:8 are the list of the five offices, which divinely-ordained persons fill in 4:11."

This is certainly a possible translation. Please note, though, that by your own translation, if you remove the paranthetical statement in 4:9-10, Paul is then changing the meaning of the "gift" that is given three times in three verses.

4:7 - "measure of faith" is the gift given
4:8 - "offices" are the gifts given
4:9 - "divinely ordained people" are the gifts given

I prefer to see Paul referring to the same gift in each of the three verses: Spirit gifts.

On another note, you made an interpretive leap between "apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers" and "offices". Can you show me where any of those are called "offices" in Scripture?

One more thing. I truly am enjoying this conversation, and I am studying these passages again as we discuss them. I know that it is difficult to read someone's tone online. But, this is definitly not an angry exchange for me. I wish we could sit down face to face and discuss this, but since we can't, we'll just have to trust one another and our motives and attitudes.

-Alan

Kevin Peacock said...

Unity does not have to be organic and formalized for it to be genuine and felt. The unity of which Jesus speaks in John 17 is an attitude of love and respect of brethren who are collectively "not of this world" (17:14, 16) and yet sent "into this world" (17:18). We have a common origin, a common Father, a common faith, and a common task (Eph 4:1-6). This is demonstrated by our attitude towards one another (John 13:34-35).

I am not convinced by the argument that in the first century each locale had only one "church" is indeed normative for today. In other words, I am not sure that the plurality of "churches" in one location is a bad thing. My people group is a city and its environs with a total population of over 1.2 million people. The first century had no city of this magnitude, nor of its cultural and ethnic complexity. My task is to plant a network of congregations through which we can evangelize the entire city. Despite all of our efforts, there are probably some that we won't be able to reach. Other evangelical "churches" are not our competition -- they are fellow laborers in the task.

The kind of comraderie we express between each other in this blog demonstrates that the bond that unites us is far stronger and deeper than our respective denominational preferences or even our particulars on ecclesiology. A lost and dying world deserves to see a glimpse of the kind of unity between the brethren that crosses all boundaries, national, racial, cultural, ethnic. After all, one day in heaven we will be able to display such unity (Rev 7:9-10).

Jonathan K. said...

Alan,

I absolutely agree that there are more than gifts besides faith and grace. But the primary reason I believe that "the measure of Christ's gift" is a reference to faith is because of the way the word "measure" is used in relation to the word "faith" in other verses. For instance, I already mentioned the verse, "God has given to every man the measure of faith." But, more relevant to the concept of spiritual gifts, Paul writes in Rom. 12:6, "Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith." I believe some translations use the term "measure" in place of the word "proportion," and basically it is the same concept. I think that is what Paul is getting at in Eph. 4:7, when he says, "the measure of Christ's gift."

We may also be both half-right here. Maybe I'm wrong saying that the "measure of Christ's gift" is really the "measure of faith." However, looking carefully at Eph. 4:8 and 11, I believe that in BOTH of those verses, it is "divinely ordained people" who are the gifts in each verse. I would not say the gifts are the "offices" in verse 8, and then the "divinely ordained people" in verse 11. The reason I believe this is because verse 11 says, "And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets," etc., and it is the "some" that refers to the "divinely ordained people," to fill the functional offices of APEPT. Does that make sense now? The distinction that I am making says, in a more real world sense, that the office of U.S. President is NOT a gift, but George W. Bush, who is IN that office IS the gift himself.

And that leads right into your question about why APEPT are "offices." The term "office" isn't used in the Scriptures. Some refer to the gifts listed in Eph. 4:11 as "ministry gifts," which is probably more correct. But its basically the same way where here in the U.S., we refer to the "office of the President." There IS an office (the Oval Office), but the Presidency is basically a functional position. That's all. Would it be better if I used the phrase "ministry gift" to describe Eph. 4:11???

Blessings,
Jonathan

Alan Knox said...

Jonathan,

"Measure" (μέτρον) does refer to faith in Rom. 12:6. I do not dispute that at all. Similarly, among other things in Scripture, "measure" refers to grain (Luke 6:30 - figuratively), the Holy Spirit (John 3:34), and boasts (2 Cor. 10:13).

"Measure" (μέτρον) is a very important term in Eph 4:7-16. We are given gifts according to Christ's measure (Eph. 4:7). We are to grown into maturity according to Christ's measure (Eph. 4:13). And, we are to function in the body as measured by Christ (Eph. 4:16). None of these refer to faith. Instead, Paul is showing us that our preparation, goal, and work as part of the body is "measured" by Christ, the Head - no one else.

Unfortunately, the word used in Rom. 12:6 is not "measure" (μέτρον), but another word that is probably better translated "proportion or right relationship".

The term "some" is actually not found in the text of Eph. 4:11. Most English translations use "some" to make the English more readable. Instead, the lists (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors/teachers) are simply connected into four groups (four bullet points, if you will) with conjunctions, as I explained in an earlier comment. So, the "some" in the English text can't really stand for anything.

I am perfectly willing to accept the lists in Eph 4:11 as "ministry gifts". Of course, "ministry" in Scripture means "service" - they are the exact same word. So, I would also see the lists in Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12 as "ministry gifts" as well. All these gifts are given for the benefit (service) of the body. (1 Cor. 12:7)

I'm also convinced by your comparison of the presidency with apostles, prophets, etc. If we can't find the idea of "office" in Scripture, then I would prefer to leave it out of my understanding of those terms.

-Alan

Anonymous said...

Hi David - Love your blog. Thanks for sharing this post. I have read it all and want to find time now to delve deeper.

At this early stage, I would simply like to ask Paul for his opinion about why we (as Baptists) have a difficult time overcoming some of the issues mentioned? In other words, the problem is before us, and then a seemingly workable solution is put forth, but we just can't seem to do it...i.e. Open communion or "no communion"...baptism is administered by an ordained minister or it's not "valid"..."reformed" thinkers are "cast out" or they stir up dissention...expository only or it "ain't preaching"...Super Bowl Service or "I won't be there"...etc.

I'm simply looking for an opinion here. I am guessing that someone with this much information regarding the issues surely has a heartfelt opinion about a solution or a strong opinion about why we behave like we do...sometimes. These should all be catergorized as "trivial" in relation to doing what is best for Christ and His Kingdom...together!

Thanks for sharing.

Paul said...

Kevin, if I read you right, I observe:

First,you may think that I think there should only be one 'congregation' in a city. I don't think that at all. I use the word 'congregation' to denote the house church (or overgrown house church). I use the word 'church' in the prevelant NT sense of one 'church' per city--unified and autonomous, even if it had multiple elders/pastors, such as in Ephesus.

Second, I understand that you believe Jesus' prayer in John 17:23 will not be answered until heaven. If I am wrong, please correct me. Is that the clearest meaning of the text? If there is not visible unity (I didn't say organic or formalized--I just said 'visible') until heaven, why did Jesus have to pray for it? Why was it recorded in the canon (name one other extended prayer of Jesus in the canon).

It has come to be my view that the prevalent interpretation of John 17:23 of just 'spiritual unity' (which augurs no sense of responsibility on our part at all) is a way of simply ignoring the clear meaning of the text. Isn't that the easy way?

Paul said...

Anon,

Thank you for your comment. I will defer to others on this, since I am not Baptist.

I do have some thoughts about the cultural milieu in America that lends itself toward the present situation, but I'll wait until others speak to the Baptist perspective.

David Rogers said...

Paul,

Wow! Over 50 comments (though quite a few are mine and yours). Still, this topic appears to be generating quite a bit of interest. I myself think there is quite a bit to discuss and be learned here, and don't mind at all "camping out" here awhile.

Once again, by the way, I think your comment to Kevin is on target.

Grosey's Messages said...

Well it seems to me that "visible unity" is dependeant on uniformity in doctrine and uniformity in practise.
I think it is arrogant to impose uniformity and conformity upon others.
I believe this is the heart of soul liberty ( a baptist principle).
Individuals associate with local churches according to preference. Churches associate with other churches according to preference (or their pastor's preference).
Love (as Kevin has rightly pointed out) allows others to choose differently in their preferences.
(Hence ... a free church in a free state .. an aspect of soul liberty ... an aussie instructing americans about this...? amazing!).
Appropriate spiritual unity allows others to be "different" whilst getting on with the work of evangelism (as Kevin noted, when you have the same enemy, you shoot at the the same thing, even if some have their sites set a little low).
The issue is respecting others differences within the realm of evangelicalism.
The requirement of "visible unity" (or uniformity or conformity) usually subverts the reality of spiritual unity.
That is why we have denominations. It both protects the distinctives and allows for cooperation upon agreed upon "high order" objectives.
Steve

David Rogers said...

Anonymous,

Although I too am interested in Paul's take on the question you pose, I respect his wish to not speak on Baptist "in-house" issues as an "outsider."

My read, as a life-long Baptist, is that we are not all that different than many other denominations in our approach to denominationalism and unity. 2,000 years of church history have no doubt affected all of us in ways to which we are completely blinded. At the same time, our history with Landmarkism has perhaps marked us as Southern Baptists in a special way. Also, I believe we have a healthy aversion towards conciliar ecumenism due to our commitment to biblical authority, and corresponding unwillingness to compromise on fundamental doctrine. Some have probably unwittingly confused this with a reluctance to pursue true biblical unity.

I personally believe New Directions at the IMB has been a very positive development in calling us back to God's vision for unity and cooperation with the broader Body of Christ around the world. Unfortunately, there has been a bit of backlash among some, and we are now dealing with the outworking of that.

David Rogers said...

Steve,

I am interested in Paul's response on your comment as well, but I think you are positing a false correlation between "visible unity" and "uniformity in doctrine and practice." I believe the discussion on "theological triage" (first, second and third-tier doctrines) is relevant here.

Jonathan K. said...

Alan,

Alright, you win on the "measure" concept. I'm not a Greek scholar, and your scholarship is fairly accurate, IMHO. So, I agree that the "measure of Christ's gift" is probably refers to the Holy Spirit.

The translation I read from (NAS) uses "some." Sometimes I read from the NKJ as well, but I think it uses the same. But, the main concern I have is that the gift of pastor and the gift of teacher are two separate gifts. In my NAS Bible, there is a cross-reference to 1 Cor. 12:28, which lists "teachers" as a separate gift. So, I do not believe in the concept of "pastor-teacher," as some churches and seminaries do.

Lastly, perhaps the best term for the list of gifts in Eph. 4 is the "equipping gifts," because that is what these gifts are supposed to do, in terms of purpose and function... they are suppose to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. However --- there is a different purpose in the gifts listed in Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12, those gifts are to upbuild or edify the body. So, I still see a distinction between Rom. 12/1 Cor. 12 gifts, and Eph. 4 gifts in terms of purpose and function. What do you think about that?

Blessings,
Jonathan

Grosey's Messages said...

Yes, David, although theological triage is a good thing, few would continually agree. The tendency of sinful man is always to move towards uniformity and conformity (hence the allusion to the history of the Brethren movement.. HA Ironside is invaluable. The History of the Brethren movement is the history of theological triage, and is VERY instructive with regard to the City Church and with regard to the currents within Baptist faith and practise (vis. Nathan's blog today: https://nathanafinn.wordpress.com/)
Visible unity descends into uniformity and conformity.
Spiritual unity without visible uity allow2s for diversity in style, approach and doctrine. I am glad I am not a SAlvation Army officer... but at the same time I praise God for the Salvos and who they evangelise!
Steve

Alan Knox said...

Jonathan,

I really do appreciate the continued interaction. However, I think we've taken up David's blog long enough. But, I'll finish my part of this discussion with this: I do not deny that the gifted people listed in Eph 4:11 equip the church. My only concern, from the beginning, is that Paul does not indicate that this list is complete. In other words, there is no reason to believe that other gifted people can also be used to equip the church.

Thanks again, and I look forward to further discussion. Maybe I should work on a blog on this passage as well.

David,

Thank you for your patience!

-Alan

Alan Knox said...

Well, my fingers slipped on this one. I messed up one very important word in one sentence of my last comment. Here is the corrected version:

In other words, there is no reason to believe that other gifted people cannot also be used to equip the church.

-Alan

Jonathan K. said...

Alan,

I probably agree with you, but I think we would need to define what it means to equip believers. We can do that at some later time.

For now...

Blessings,
Jonathan

Strider said...

Well, this is the longest comment string on a non-political issue I have seen. Congratulations David!
My two cents:
The issue of visible unity vs. spiritual unity is found in 1 Samuel. When Israel wanted a King they inadvertently rejected God as their King. We must not do that. To create a denomination- which is a human organization- and call it the Church is blasphemous IMO. We have organizations and we enjoy them but we are all members of one Body whose head is Christ. I don't agree with my brother who lives in Texas about anything but when we are together everyone can tell that we are brothers and that we love each other. This is because we have the same parents and nothing we 'decide' can change that. Christians need to treat each other the same regardless of the organizations- which are very helpful and good- they create.

As to the five fold ministry- I like the conclusions drawn by Jonathan and Alan. IMO- they are ministry gifts. The reason we have such an issue over determining whether they are offices or not is because we still think in worldly terms with worldly leadership structures. In God's Kingdom he who has a ministry given to him by God serves. This makes him a defacto leader whether he has a title or not. Here in Middle Earth I have encouraged house-church leaders not to take on the 'title' of pastor as that has too much baggage- it basically means dictator. Instead we have elders and of those elders there is always one who surfaces as the one who serves- is gifted- as pastor. I think the same is true of the other gifts here. I do not introduce myself as 'Apostle Strider.' But I am an apostle and if I do not recognize my gifting then I will not act on it and the body of Christ will be poorer.
Also, as far as gifts go it is worth mentioning that gifts of healing, and miracles and several others can be had by anyone from time to time- the gift is the Holy Spirit and He does the miraculous. Paul did not have one of these- he used several as the Holy Spirit chose. But the ministry gifts act differently. A person with the pastor gift remains pastoral regardless of his assigned job. A person who is a prophet always operates in a prophetic manner- even though no one even recognizes that he is doing so anymore.
So, in the original discussion of City Church it would help us to work together better and encourage each other better if we were able to recognize these types of people and use them. I would put it to you that we do many times as we see so-called para-church ministries started. What we are really seeing is a gifted person serving the greater body. We would be richer to recognize these people more often.

David Rogers said...

Steve,

No one ever said practical unity was easy or uncomplicated. I do wonder if perhaps we are dealing with different definitions and understandings of "visible unity." I have read a bit of the history of the Plymouth Brethren. From what I understand, the more closed group, aligning with Darby and others ended up splintering in a "thousand" different directions, while the more open group, identified more with George Muller, has been able to avoid a lot of this. At the same time, I see the Plymouth Brethren, at least in Spain, functioning more or less as one more denomination, which was definitely not their original vision.

I think some of these difficulties perhaps underlie what Paul said in Eph. 4 about "making every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit." It is something that requires lots of effort and perserverance.

I do agree with you, however, that it would almost certainly be instructive for us, as Baptists today, to study the history of the Plymouth Brethren, as well as that of the Campbellites, and Watchman Nee/Witness Lee, and any others who had a vision for "visible unity" to learn what we can from their errors of the past.

I haven't had a chance to read Nathan's post yet, but I hope to get to it soon. He usually has some interesting things to say.

David Rogers said...

Alan & Jonathan,

No need to apologize for taking up space on my blog to discuss these issues. I think these are issues we need to discuss, and happy to provide a forum to do so.

Also, it "strokes my ego" a bit to see so many comments on my post (actually Paul's post). ;^)

Paul said...

Grosey said:

>>Well it seems to me that "visible unity" is dependeant on uniformity in doctrine and uniformity in practise.
I think it is arrogant to impose uniformity and conformity upon others.<<

Grosey, sorry for the late response. Yesterday was a travel day for me to a conference I'm attending.

1. It seems to me that 'visible unity' doesn't necessarily mean organizational unity. I think it may be helpful for us to think outside the box and not immediately think of what we have known--denominationalism.
2. One expression of 'visible unity' that we took in our community was to have a joint Sunday morning worship service in the mid-90s with about 12 various evangelical congregations represented. Was that unbiblical? Based on what you know from the Word, would you guess that the Lord was pleased or displeased with us? (BTW, it was the Baptist pastor that spoke:)--he also was the Sunday morning preacher at the dedication of our new worship facility--was the Lord pleased or displeased with that?)
3. If that weak form of 'visible unity' is too much, then shouldn't we get rid of stronger forms of visible unity, such as all Baptist conventions?
4. Why would visible unity necessitate uniformity? Why can't local unity has as much freedom and soul liberty as Baptist conventions have? Isn't that what Wade Burleson and others are contending for?
5. Why is no one actually trying to exegete John 17:23 with me? It seems to me that we are talking around it rather than trying to understand what Jesus actually was saying (using classical evangelical hermeneutical principles). Do we really care what He said or meant? Can you forgive me for taking a "The Bible says it, I believe it" approach?

I'll stop here for now. Please understand the root of my passion--to please the Lord.

David Rogers said...

Strider,

Once again, great words! Thanks for your contribution on this subject. I believe the Lord has given you a lot of wisdom.

Paul said...

Clarification: Under #5 above, when I said "no one," I was speaking of those who disagree and have taken the time to respond/dialogue (which I greatly appreciate). Obviously, with those, like David, who agree there is no need to preach to the choir.

As I do every Sunday, my prayer is that my lack of clarity doesn't impede the message.:) Anyone identify with that?:)

Kevin Peacock said...

Paul,

No, I don't believe you are reading me correctly.

1. I do not believe you think there should only be one "congregation" in a city. Even though you might call a congregation a "house church," we seem to differ in our ecclesiology. I am willing to acknowledge that "congregation/house church" as "the body of Christ" (your reference to "house church" opens up this possibility; cf. Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15). A local congregation is not merely a part of "the church of God" (Acts 20:28), it is the church of God in its local expression. It is the church that Christ has built in that location. Each congregation, no matter how large or small (or in whatever form) represents His congregation, the church. Each church is a whole church, because Christ is embodied in it. But as individual churches are joined to Christ they are also joined to each other (Eph 4:4). Thus, the one church of God expresses itself locally in each fellowship of believers.

The NT pattern is that each congregation is under the lordship of Christ (even a house church). Each church is a gathered group of God's people with Christ as their head. Each congregation is led and empowered by His Spirit in its God-ordained task. Thus each local "church" (in whatever form) looks only to Christ for its authority to preach, teach, evangelize, and conduct its business. Each church was indwelt by God's Spirit (Eph 2:22), was responsible to choose its leadership (cf. Acts 6:1-6), to conduct the specific ministry God had assigned for them (Acts 11:27-29), and to fulfill its missions task (Acts 13:1-3). Each local body also had the responsibility to care for its own members in ministry (Gal 6:1-5, 10), discipleship (Col 1:24-29; 1 Thes 5:12-15), and church discipline (Matt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:4-5; 2 Cor 2:4-11). No other church or ecclesiastical body had authority (except for the unique authority of Christ's apostles) over this God-called, Christ-led, and Spirit-empowered local body of believers. Therefore, I believe that the scripture teaches that each "body" is autonomous, or more specifically, directly answerable only to the lordship of Christ.

At the same time, even though local churches in the NT were not bound together by a formal religious structure or authority imposed upon them, the early Christian churches had a profound sense of unity with one another. Their "fellowship" created a spiritual indebtedness to one another (e.g. Rom 15:23-29), like brothers and sisters in the same family. Paul said, "There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:4-6). NT churches associated and cooperated with one another for the purposes of benevolence, fellowship, brotherhood, and for common missions causes (Acts 11:22-26; Rom 16:3-5; 2 Cor 9:1-2), but never for the purpose of exercising authority over one another. This is why I struggle with the idea that "visible unity" of Christ's body is identified only with some sort of ecclesiastical structure of various congregations in a locale.

You stated, "It seems to me that 'visible unity' doesn't necessarily mean organizational unity." I agree. You seem to equate denominations with "organizational unity," but is not what you propose with your "city church" model an "organizational unity"? If there is no "structure" or "organization" of the various congregations in your town, then what is the difference between that and autonomous "churches" that choose to love, respect, and cooperate with each other wherever they can to build God's kingdom?

2. If you will re-read my post, I am not saying that John 17:23 will only be realized in heaven. In fact, I demonstrated many ways in my context in which Christ's unity has clearly transcended denominational lines. I find that to be "visible unity" -- comparable to the examples that you have given in your context.

In a very real way God has already answered Jesus' prayer for unity of His disciples (John 17:20-24). He has already made the church one in Christ. We are "one flock with one shepherd" (John 10:16). In Christ the deepest divisions that scar humanity have been abolished, no longer Jews nor Gentiles, slaves nor free, male and female, "for all are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). He created a fellowship that is a new phenomenon in this world, spanning cultures and languages, traditions and social mores, politics and ethnicity. Indeed, He "broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity . . . so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace" (Eph 2:14-15). He has already accomplished this, thus Christ's prayer has already been answered.

Now, do we display what He has already accomplished? In many ways we do not, even as the early church struggled with this. They struggled with ethnic issues, culture, personalities, and particulars of theological interpretation. In the same way that not every Christian lives out their new nature that they have in Christ (Eph 4:17), not every church displays the unity that Christ has already created, within its local body or among other local bodies (whether or not we would like to acknowledge that we are indeed unified with them). My reference to heaven was to demonstrate that in heaven unity among God's people will finally be displayed in its purest form. Until then, we strive toward that end.

I will post this now, and Paul, if you are still interested, I will be glad to do an exegesis of John 17:23.

Paul said...

Kevin,

Thank you so much for your comprehensive and articulate response.

1. Is it your best guess that the Church of Ephesus (either in the time under Timothy's leadership--remember there were multiple elders in the city [1 Tim 3:1f; 5:17f]--or by the time of the Book of Revelation 2:1-7) had only a single congregation/house church?
2. Why, almost always, does the word "churches" in all letters in the NT (either epistles or in Revelation) only refer to a region, such as Asia, Galatia, or Macedonia. Are we not to get the idea that the NT writers thought of each city having one church?
3. Because of my congregationalist commitments, I'm more than willing to agree with you on each house church/congregation being self-governing, etc., but I still have to ask myself if Paul thought each Ephesian house church was such, or were they expected to follow Timothy's leadership (weak as it was)?
4. Would you be willing to venture a position on what I describes us doing in State College? Does that sound like something you think pleases the Lord or have we been deceived in some way? Do you think we are doing anything right, or does it send chills down your spine?
5. You are right. Right now in State College our unity is just what I think most of us would agree upon--brothers and congregations loving, praying, worshiping together. We do have one small joint checking account (but no 501c3 status), and that's about it. We don't even have a web site. Might it someday become a loose semi-organized unity, such as the SBC or other congregationalist organization--I don't know. We're in no hurry to do that, for sure.
6. If Jesus had never prayed John 17, you think the Church would be more fractured than it is now? Do you think the Holy Spirit would have been disempowered? Do you see my argument of John 17 as canon, and not just as another of Jesus' kazillion prayers?
7. Sure, Kevin, I'd love to hear your take on John 17:23. I'm tired of hearing mine.:)

Grosey's Messages said...

Paul, it sounds wonderful to be in a place where you have so many clergy who are identifiably evangelical. Having said that, I must say that I agree strongly with Kevin's ecclesiology.

Please let me share how this ecclesiology works out in practise in a community where the minority is evangelical.

In my town (I am the central city baptist church in a town of 400,000, with a total of about 30 evangelical churches of any denomination, and around, 150 non evangelical denominations). The other clergy in the inner city have a joint unity project. There is one evangelical presbyterian church in the inner city. There are 9 pro homosexual churches (some with homosexual clergy). There are 4 extreme pentecostal churches all affirming new revelations and apostolic authority over our church.
It has been demanded that I allow access to my pulpit of homosexual clergy as proff of my agreement with John 17.
It has been demanded that I join their annual joint service where the Roman Catholic priest who was recently charged as a pedophile speaks.
The Buddhists and Spiritualist church are part of the visible unity of churches in my town.
The Buddhist priest is the son of one of my church members (as a result of an era when the Baptists accepted the visible unity approach!)
The majority non christian community (85%) regards Christianity as a joke, and rightly so.
I have done 300 celebrant (non denominational) funerals in the last two years where the families have said that.

I guess my own scenario makes sumbission to your city church model of visible unity worrisome and unhelpful to evangelicalism.

With those 7 churches in our city that do not submit to the authoritarian city church model imposed by the extreme charismatics and extreme liberal anglicans, and the liberal charismatic baptists we have fellowship.
(Of the 7 churches: 1 independant evangelical Anglican, 1 reformed Baptist and 3 Union Baptist and 1 Dutch Reformed, and 2 Presbyterian churches)we have great fellowship and intercommunion where we meet ocassionally, preach for each other, we encourage each other's evangelistic enterprises and respect each other's distinctives.
Submission to the city church model imposed by the extremes for us would mean loss of our evangelical identity (top teir issues).
While for you Paul there may be some possibility of fellowship in a city church model (given the preponderance of evangelical churches in your community), for us the "city church model imposed by non evangelicals has the unstated purpose of the deliberate annihilation of our evangelical position. From the position of the liberal/charismatic majority we are viewed as fundementalists and separatists becasue we do not acknowledge homosexual clergy as christians nor as valid ministers.

Of course, the point of the comment is to say that in times of revival evangelical cooperation is easier than in times of apostacy.
One size doesn't fit all.

May I give an example of the insanity that prevails in this city. The pastor of the local Calvary Chapel went through the large public hospital trying to do healings bed by bed without respect for denominational affiliations of the patients or their personal wishes for him to leave them alone. When stopped by hospital staff he claimed to be me (I was an officially recognised hospital chaplain, but why anyone would claim to be me, I have no idea). The hospital told me they are pursuing legal charges against the pastor, and I have lost my access to that hospital (They were not convinced that I didn't know anything about it, even though at the time I was an inpatient in the hospital, "after all", the hospital admin reasoned, "all the churches join together in the city church in Newcastle and know and respect each other's ministries"). I pursued the id fraud with their aussie denominational leadership (with whom there was agreement) and the pastor himself. The pastor himself refused all contact with me. Woops, now I am excluded from the city church, even though his own denomination carpetted him for the abuse!

OK, so from your part Paul, I would understand that you would say, well obviously the only real church in our city is the evangelical churches that are not associated to the "City church" and that is the true city church... Well I would think within the strange aberrations in our city there may actually be a number of evangelical christians worshipping and fellowshipping in non evangelical churches (I wrote the bible studies for 600 catholics in 23 Bible study groups some years ago in a small town, which became the foundation for the Bible studies in the Antiochean movement among charismatic catholic young people.
WOW folks I guess that must be a stunning revelation!)

I am asserting that a better model for intercommunion and fellowship between evangelical churches is one where we do not demand visible unity but in respecting the autonomy of the local evangelical congregations we find things we can do better together than apart.


Steve

Paul said...

Steve, thank you for sharing. It sounds like your city has many challenges. I've always felt ours has as well (in a town of 40,000 we have everything under the sun because of the nature of an institution such as Penn State University), but your description makes me feel grateful that I am where I am.:) Then, again, I always have felt that if we are where we are called, it's the greatest place on earth.

My guess, Steve, is that we agree far more than we disagree. Your last sentence surely resonated. I would think working together with anyone with whom you have substantial (even second tier) agreement qualifies as visible (not organizational) unity.

I've also gotten the sense from you and Kevin that we may be trying to mandate something here or elsewhere (with words like "submission," "formal," or "mandate." The truth is that we are very loosely affiliated, and the "City Church" is more aspirational than tangible.

Let me also very strongly say that I think there are two unity models developing. One is 'interfaith,' is false and may become a tool of the Antichrist (I'm premillenial, but I'm not real hard and fast on the details). The other is true, Holy Spirit-guided unity.

One is counterfeit; one is real. I don't want the counterfeit to keep me from believing for the real anymore than counterfeit Christianity might cause me to lose my faith.

As the other Paul would say, "God forbid."

Grosey's Messages said...

Thanks Paul ,
Hey I'm premill too , but I can't tell my fellow evangelicals (who are all but 1 amill) or I might be put out of fellowship! Believe it or not, I am serious! :)
Steve

Paul said...

That is so sad, Steve.

Maybe they think "everything is a fundamental."

If you might allow me to be so bold and presumptious, I would like to suggest that anyone in a situation similar to yours can still start somewhere--if one can find even one other pastor to pray with in one's local community, then we are moving in the right direction. I think that pleases the Lord and I also believe there is spiritual power in biblically-based unity.

I think that's what many missionaries (who often feel so isolated and alone) have discovered, so why not apply that principle to post-Christian nations?

Kevin Peacock said...

Paul,

Don't get me wrong! I'm actually with you on the "city church" concept. In fact, in a way that is what I am endeavoring to create in my ministry. My issue with you was by no means on the validity nor the biblical justification of the concept -- I believe that was what was indeed found in Ephesus, Jerusalem (especially after the purge), and in many or most of the NT contexts. I commend you for what you and your ministry are accomplishing in State College. It is undoubtedly a valid biblical model of a NT church.

My issue with you is -- Is that the only valid biblical model of a NT church? From my perspective, no it is not. In my endeavors to plant a house church network across my city I do not want to discount the validity of other "churches" and models in my locale. Many of them are traditional, and most are denominational.

I also took issue with you over the idea that the presence of denominations means that Christ's body is divided -- that the mere presence of denominational congregations is a threat to the unity that Christ has created and desires to be evident in that community. I am still unconvinced that this is the case.

Christ came to build His church (Matt 16:18). It was His intent to make of them "one flock with one shepherd" (John 10:16). This was His purpose before He even prayed John 17, and unity and love between the brethren is His repeated "commandment" that He gave His disciples (John 13:34-35; 15:12, et al.). Jesus' prayer in John 17:23 fits exactly in line with what He taught previously, taught afterwards, and was repeatedly taught by the other NT writers.

As for John 17:23, I have already referred to how God has already answered His prayer in tearing down barriers and creating "the Church" (Gal 3:28; Eph 2:14-15; 4:4-6; et al.).

As the Father and Son are unified in koinonia, so His people become "one" by participating in that koinonia by being united with the Son ("I in them"). Earlier Jesus described this as "abiding in Him" (John 15:1-15). As branches joined to the same vine, the branches are united with each other. One of the signs and expected responses of this unity is love. Jesus expected His disciples to "love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17). This is the chief way we demonstrate our unity with Him and with each other. We are recipients of His love ("that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me"), and we should extend His love. His people are to be a display of God's redemptive work, that the world might see the power of Christ to redeem sinners into sons of God and make from them a community of love that this world desperately needs.

It is indeed a spiritual unity, not an organic one. Jesus did not pray that the disciples as different persons become one huge man, but instead with their individual characteristics that they be unified in a common faith and purpose (cf. Eph 2:15). This unity is displayed by our love for each other (John 13:35). This holy unity is based upon the truth of His word (17:17), not upon some nonbiblical idealism of unity at the expense of sound biblical doctrine. Rather than beginning with our differences, we begin with our common faith in Christ, our "one Lord," who is the source of our unity (Eph 4:1-6). With that we have an awful lot more in common with fellow evangelical Christians than we have differences.

Paul said...

Kevin, again, thank you so much.

I had to laugh as I read what you wrote. No, I was not laughing at *you*, but I was laughing at *me*.

I found it quite enlightening that while it appears that we agree on so, so much and disagree on so, so little, I was focusing on everything you wrote so that I might respond to...

Well, I'll let you guess...
A. What I agreed with
B. What I disagreed with
C. Both of the above

Well, since I'm too busy for C., the answer is B.:)

Isn't that human nature (especially those of us that are high D's on the DISC Profile:))? We (in marriage, in church, in society) can agree on 99%, but will so often focus on the part we disagree. Sometimes those disagreements are substantial, but so often they are not.

I think the Lord would be pleased if I stop doing B for right now.:)

Blessings on thee and thine!

Kevin Peacock said...

Paul,

Blessings on you. I have enjoyed our discussion.

Steve,

It is great to meet a brother serving Down Under -- and me in the Great White North! You have just gone on my prayer list. Is there any way I can be of assistance or encouragement to you in your ministry in Newcastle?

Grosey's Messages said...

well thanks Kev the Rev,
As a matter fo fact we just picked up a lovely young couple married about a month came over from Ontario. If you guys make them that good over there they are welcome here any day.
they are just coming out of a fairly strict Dutch reformed background..
So you are in the land of revival there? I have read Lutzer's book, and am aware of some of the good things happening. For what God can do in Canada, then He can do anywhere in the world....
Thanks for putting me on your prayer list, I'll reciprocate Kev.
Steve

David Rogers said...

Some great discussion here between Steve, Kevin & Paul! From what I am understanding (and as Paul alludes to on his "99 %" comment to Kevin), none of us appear to be that far apart on this.

I also think Steve's point about different contexts leading to different approaches is valid. I was privileged to work in an area, in Extremadura, where the demarcation between evangelicals and non-evangelicals was pretty clear. I can imagine it gets a whole lot more complicated in a scenario like that described by Steve.

I still don't think, however, that the biblical and Christ-honoring approach, in such a situation, is to throw up our hands and throw in the towel regarding "visible unity." But I am definitely not saying either that we should compromise with blatant heresy.

I think perhaps the bottom-line issue here is the attitude of our heart. Are we honestly "making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit" with other truly born-again believers in our midst? Or do we relate to others who are not in "our group" in a way similar to that in which we relate to non-believers?

R. L. Vaughn said...

A question for David or Paul.

I got in on this late, so haven't read all 77 of the responses. If this is addressed in them, I apologize.

In speaking of the Lord's prayer, Paul writes, "It seems transparently clear to me that John 17:23 speaks (1) of visible unity, i.e., '...that the world may know... and (2) clearly expresses the heartfelt prayer and desire of the one we call Lord. I don't see any way that we can call Jesus "Lord" and ignore what is in his only extended canonical prayer...If this is not a priority for us, how can we call ourselves followers of Christ, let alone Biblical Christians?"

I agree that unity should be a priority for us. I further acknowledge that Paul's exhortation in Corinthians binds us to avoid divisions among us. But would you address the implications of John 17 being a prayer of Jesus TO God the Father? IOW, God is the prayer-answerer and not we ourselves. Is God not answering this prayer? Or is He possibly and we refuse to or don't see it? Or something else?

Thanks.

David Rogers said...

R.L.,

I'm not sure if Paul will check back this far and see your comment. In the meantime, I will give a shot at answering your question from my perspective...

Down through history, I think it is hard to argue that there have not been periods when the unity of the Body of Christ have been more evident than others. Has the Father been answering Jesus' prayer all along? Yes, but, to me, that doesn't mean that He is not still in the process of bringing that unity to perfection.

There is, of course, a sense in which all of us as brothers and sisters in Christ are already in perfect unity in the spiritual, and I would say, theoretical, realm. However, in the day-to-day practical incarnation of this unity, we are many times far from what I think that Jesus had in mind when He made this prayer.

Also, I don't think the fact that God Himself is in the business of answering Jesus' prayer relieves us as Jesus' disciples from taking to heart His injunction to us, by way of Paul in Eph. 4.3, to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks for the reply, David. I don't have a major disagreement with anything in your reply, if I understand you correctly. For the most part I'm just thinking out loud -- the original post having for some reason brought with force to my mind that a prayer of Jesus to His Father must certainly be answered, and that perhaps sometimes we operate as if it is not. And therefore perhaps we don't even know what the answer looks like. So I guess one thing I am wondering is just what does/will this prayed for unity look like?

Here are a few things that I get from the prayer regarding oneness or unity. 1) Jesus is not praying for the world, so therefore both the unbeliever and "Christian" in name only is excluded. 2) Jesus is praying for His own, and therefore all who are His called & own are included. 3) Jesus' prayer includes His children living at that time and those yet to come. So this unity must have a spiritual element that has nothing to do with visible unity (seeing some of these aren't even alive at the same time). 4) There must be some kind of visible or tangible element to this prayed-for unity, because in some way by it the world knows Jesus is the sent one of God.

So we have a prayer that excludes all unbelievers, includes all believers, brings about a unity of believers even across time that is a tangible testimony to the world of Jesus the Christ. That I see. I suppose what I don't see is just what kind of unity fills all that bill.

Thanks.

David Rogers said...

R.L,

Great observations!

I think the unity Jesus prayed for has not yet reached its culmination. Yes, I agree that none of Jesus' prayers go unanswered. But, just as in the case of our prayers, sometimes God answers them in His timing. He also taught us to pray that God's will may be done on Earth, just as it already is in Heaven. And I think that carries with it the implicit understanding that we are to be His instruments and co-laborers in seeing His will done on Earth.

What exactly will this unity look like? For now, "we see through a glass dimly." But, there is a whole lot revealed to us that is quite clear, and does not stack up with what we see on a day-to-day practical manner in the meantime here on Earth. Let's do our best to work on the part we do understand, and trust God to continue to guide us in the part we don't yet understand.

Steve Sensenig said...

Not being a Baptist, I didn't feel very qualified to comment on much in this discussion (since so much of it sounds like an inhouse Baptist discussion to me), but I had to pipe up and applaud this:

Let's do our best to work on the part we do understand, and trust God to continue to guide us in the part we don't yet understand.

So true. So true! Thank you, David, for this reminder.

David Rogers said...

Steve,

Yeah, I guess the discussions do tend to get a bit "in-house" here at times. By all means, feel free to "pipe up" whenever you want to, though. Other perspectives enrich us all.

David Rogers said...

A tribute to our departed friend Paul Grabill

http://youtu.be/6_xFv8r_C7Y

David Rogers said...

Paul Grabill, His Life and Legacy

http://youtu.be/KFozsAgcv9A